Young UX evangelists in a monastery aka German UPA Winter School

Once a year, twelve young UX professionals from all across Germany gather in the idyllic Taubertal, more precisely in the monastery Bronnbach, to exchange views and experiences, to make new contacts, and to enlarge their expert knowledge. Who is responsible for this gathering?

Initiator is the German UPA, the association for professionals working in the domain of usability and user experience. Behind this stands a growing network of UX experts, who support employees in regard to their daily user-centered work, who engage in specific UX-related topics, such as user research or quality standards, and who represent the whole bunch of UX topics to the general public. Some of their 15.000 members are especially engaged in junior development, and tadaa: one day, the idea of the so-called Winter School was born. This year, I was one of the happy 12 chosen participants - hooray!

Perfect learning environment

The conditions for our two intensive days of workshops were simply fantastic. The housing next to the monastery was really beautiful, the staff was very cordial and courteous, and not to forget: the wine house! So, especially for “UX evangelists”, the monastery is definitely the place to be for training sessions 😇.

A special thanks goes to Ludwig Fichte, Senior User Researcher at SAP SE. He headed us competently through the days and moderated between the workshops.

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It’s all about the right mix of methods

Maria Händler, UX Consultant at m-pathy GmbH, made the glorious start. She introduced us to the topic of Live User Tracking. Although many people might assume, this is not about simply reading out click counts ☝️. The secret lies in the right mix of quantitative and qualitative methods! Let’s take a high cancellation rate at a specific spot in a system as an example. When doing user tracking in your system, you can read out the exact number of cancellations. In fact, this number doesn’t tell you anything but that there is something wrong. So the second step, a qualitative one, should be to have a look into the individual user sessions in order to identify the different reasons for the high rate of cancellations. Based on this knowledge, the data of cancellation can then be limited to the single problems and quantified again. In this way, you can cluster and prioritize issues you need to work on with higher evidence. As our devs at ePages are currently working on implementing user tracking in our new software, I am curious about sharing my insights with my colleagues.

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Kilian Jäger, Senior Usability Engineer at 1&1 Telekom GmbH, continued with a workshop about Service Design Thinking. Although the first hype about design thinking seems to be almost cooled down, it is still highly topical and immensely useful - not only in the daily work as a UX Manager. This workshop impressively demonstrated how a vague idea can turn into a cool and innovative product vision, by simply using the right mix of methods. In our case, this mix consisted of an experience interview, the development of a persona, sketching a customer journey map, brainstorming and formulating a design challenge. The outcome was a “movie match” - the Tinder of tomorrow’s TV culture. Why not?

With 6-3-5 on your way to the breakthrough

After a practical workshop headed by Frederik Bader, Usability Engineer at Verivox GmbH, about little tips and tricks using the prototyping tool Axure, Christian Grieger und Sven Fackert (UX Manager and UX Researcher at Ergosign GmbH), made the great final. Have you ever asked yourself how to pimp your dusty existing product, but couldn’t come up with any innovative ideas yet? The secret might be a structured brainstorming session 💡! Many brainstormings culminate in broad discussions which do not lead to any results. A method, like 6-3-5 brainwriting, could remedy. It is all about generating a whole bunch of ideas in a structured way by polishing and refining impulses of other team mates without criticizing them. An advantage is that no single idea can be missed, even those of more quiet people or those which seem to be stupid in the first moment. (These might even be the most brilliant ones!)

A lack of ideas is not your problem? But to convince your boss to invest into rebuilding the product in order to simplify a complex user flow? Then, you could try GOMS, an evaluation method for user interfaces based on cognitive models. It enables you to predict how long it will take an experienced user in your software to complete a task without errors. With this amount of time in mind, you simply need to do the same calculation for the optimized user flow and your boss will see that the effort is worth it. Give it a try 🙂!

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So many like-minded people

What I especially liked at the German UPA Winter School was to have so many like-minded people at one place which led to a lively exchange of UX-related topics: What are future key topics at the UX firmament? What are the main issues companies need to deal with? What are the challenges? How do team structures look like and how can UX be included in development processes?

What is remarkable again and again and what I appreciate very much is the fact that UX professionals are loyal. They care A LOT about the product they currently work on. They are motivated to make it the best possible product. They feel responsible. And they are willing to invest effort to lead all product people towards one shared direction: the direction of the user. This can, I guess, sometimes appear exhausting to externals - but this is only, let’s say, for the good cause 😊!

Hoping for a Spring School to come

Looking back, I can say that the Winter School kicked off several things: I practiced an incredible amount of UX methods that I’d like to try out. I got to know great people and learned about what other UX people are up to. I now have a long list of books I would love to read all together straightaway. So all in all, I feel motivated and inspired! And finally, I went home from the beautiful Taubertal not only with three bottles of wine and a Usability quartet, but with an idea of what I will meet on my journey as a UX Manager. How about - for example - a “Spring School” 😉?